5 Milwaukee Brewers Not even another successful reclamation project can save this sorry club

April 04, 2004

Milwaukee has given us Liberace, the Harley-Davidson and, lately,
baseball's unlikeliest reclamation projects. Last year in the Tap
City an outfielder who spent nine years in the farm systems of
three other teams wound up second in the National League Rookie
of the Year vote (Scott Podsednik); a 29-year-old reliever
released by the Rangers in March 2003 became a lights-out closer
(Danny Kolb); and a journeyman discarded by Texas in April and
then Toronto in July became one of the league's most effective
starters over the final two months (Doug Davis). "This is kind of
a land of opportunity," says general manager Doug Melvin, who
while in Texas resurrected the careers of two players who would
win the American League Comeback Player of the Year
award--outfielder Ruben Sierra and shortstop Kevin Elster. "We
give guys chances here that they can't get anywhere else."

Melvin's latest pickup from the bargain bin: outfielder Ben
Grieve, the 1998 AL Rookie of the Year with the Athletics. Grieve
had two good follow-up years in Oakland, hitting 28 and then 27
homers, but after he was traded to the Devil Rays in 2001 his
game rapidly deteriorated. The team's highest-salaried player at
$5.5 million last year, Grieve batted .254 with 34 homers and 153
RBIs in 345 games and became a frequent target of Tampa Bays'
fans' scorn. The 27-year-old hit bottom last June when manager
Lou Piniella went off on Grieve, who was hitting .236 at the
time, after he had struck out looking to end a game against the
Yankees; the tongue-lashing in the dugout was aired repeatedly on
national TV highlight shows. "The two of us, we just don't have
the same personality," the soft-spoken Grieve says of Piniella.
"Because of that, sometimes he thought I didn't care."

Grieve entered the free-agent market last fall and didn't have a
seriously interested suitor until December when Melvin came
calling with a one-year, $700,000 non-guaranteed offer. "The way
I've played over the last three seasons, I don't deserve a
guaranteed contract," says Grieve. "Frankly, I'm just happy with
the opportunity." After doing research on Grieve, Melvin
concluded that he had become too passive at the plate in Tampa
Bay. "There was a season where 53 percent of his strikeouts were
called strikeouts," says Melvin. "He's always been a patient
hitter, but we've talked to him about being more aggressive while
still being selective."

Grieve will begin the season as the starter in right, and manager
Ned Yost believes Grieve can reach his former home run totals
playing at Miller Park. "This ballpark is tailor-made for Ben,"
says Yost. "It's a park made for fly-ball hitters with power to
the alleys, and that's what he is."

Grieve is one of many new faces in the Brewers' clubhouse, which
underwent an extreme makeover following the Dec. 1 trade of
All-Star first baseman Richie Sexson to the Diamondbacks--a deal
that brought Milwaukee four every-day players in second baseman
Junior Spivey, shortstop Craig Counsell, first baseman Lyle
Overbay and catcher Chad Moeller. Sexson's 40-homer power may be
gone, but as leftfielder Geoff Jenkins, a close friend of
Sexson's, says, the team is "much more well-rounded as a result
of the trade."

Says Yost, "When we traded Richie, the whole complexion of the
team changed. We always seemed to be sitting back and trying to
hit the home run. Now we've got guys in the lineup who work the
counts, get on base and manufacture runs. That's the kind of
baseball we want to play here."

Strong seasons from their outfield of Grieve, Jenkins and
Podsednik, who led NL rookies in nine offensive categories, would
give the Brewers a competitive lineup, but the tattered rotation
gives a franchise that's had 11 straight losing seasons little
reason for optimism. Limited by ever-tighter purse strings--the
team's league-low $40 million payroll in 2003 was slashed over
the winter to $30 million--Melvin was unable to upgrade the rest
of his rotation behind 25-year-old Ben Sheets. Instead the G.M.
will hope for overachieving seasons from Davis, Chris Capuano and
Matt Kinney, who are a combined 44-55 in their careers.

Goals in Milwaukee are appropriately modest. "We've got to find a
way to get to .500 first, and if we can get there this year or
next, then we can think about being competitive," Yost says.
"Right now, we're battling no one but ourselves." --A.C.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER GENTLE BEN The Brewers are hoping that a more aggressive approach at the plate will rekindle Grieve's productivity.
COLOR PHOTO: BRIAN BAHR/GETTY IMAGES SHEETS

IN FACT

Ben Sheets surrendered the most hits (469) and second-most runs
(227) in the NL over the past two seasons.

ENEMY LINES
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Brewers

"I love Geoff Jenkins. The guy runs, hits and plays defense--and
he does it all hard. The only question is whether anyone in their
lineup can protect him. Ben Grieve is just starting to come
around, but Wes Helms has been awful.... Lyle Overbay looks as if
he thinks he's 'the man' when he's a Sean Casey-type hitter at
best.... Junior Spivey was kicking balls all over the place early
on and could be a liability in the infield. They'd like to get
Keith Ginter in at second, but then where do they put Junior? ...
I do like Scott Podsednik. He's found a home in the outfield and
has been swinging the bat well.... Ben Sheets is close to
becoming one of the best pitchers in the National League. He
could have a very big year, but that's only if they can score
some runs, which they haven't all spring.... The rest of the
staff is a mess. From what I hear, they don't trust the season
Wayne Franklin had last year. After Sheets, I don't see any of
their guys finishing with a winning record.... They've got a lot
of part-time players playing full-time positions."

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2003 statistics

BATTING ORDER

CF Podsednik
2B Spivey
1B Overbay
LF Jenkins
RF Grieve
3B Helms
SS Counsell
C Moeller

GEOFF JENKINS

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L-R 79 .296 28 95 0

SCOTT PODSEDNIK

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L 53 .314 9 58 43

BEN GRIEVE
New acquisition

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L-R 165 .230 4 17 0

WES HELMS

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 177 .261 23 67 0

CRAIG COUNSELL
New acquisition

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L-R 239 .234 3 21 11

JUNIOR SPIVEY
New acquisition

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 175 .255 13 50 4

LYLE OVERBAY
New acquisition

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L 113 .276 4 28 1

CHAD MOELLER
New acquisition

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 214 .268 7 29 1

BENCH

BRADY CLARK

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 277 .273 6 40 13

KEITH GINTER

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 260 .257 14 44 1

ROTATION

PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Ben Sheets 64 11 13 6.5 1.25 4.45
LH Doug Davis 137 7 8 5.5 1.59 4.03
RH Matt Kinney 187 10 13 6.0 1.47 5.19
LH Chris Capuano (R) 195 2 4 5.2 1.15 4.64
New acquisition
RH Wes Obermueller 241 2 5 5.6 1.61 5.07

BULLPEN

PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Danny Kolb 96 1 2 21 1.28 1.96
RH Leo Estrella 253 7 3 3 1.45 4.36
LH Wayne Franklin 285 10 13 0 1.52 5.50

New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 142)

2003 RECORD
68-94
sixth in NL Central

MANAGER
Ned Yost
second season with Milwaukee

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)